While it has been true for many years in recent times that the Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten little productivity on offense or defense out of their rookie players, that has been less of a truism in recent years, particularly, perhaps, over the last two seasons.
While the Steelers have gotten some starts out of rookie offensive linemen over the years, they have gotten greater productivity from skill position players and defensive players in more complicated roles recently, which has been a change of pace—and frankly makes reviewing a draft class after its first season a more enjoyable task.
The Steelers selected nine players in the draft, though only six made the initial 53-man roster. Seven of them remain with the organization. While one undrafted free agent did spend some time on the roster, there are also a few who have spent time on the practice squad that are worth consideration as well.
Player: Daniel McCullers
Draft Status: 6th round (215th overall)
The Steelers got some form of production out of their top four draft picks. With varying success, admittedly, but they all go their playing time, to some degree. Some of them contributed significantly, while others were hindered from doing so.
But the Steelers had five other draft picks to make over the course of the final three rounds. Of those five, only two of them made the roster, and of those two, only one was ever active for a game, let alone got a chance to play.
That one player, was perhaps the biggest enigma of the draft—no pun intended—with many unsure of what to make of him. Daniel McCullers, the 6’7”, 350-pound nose tackle who was project to go higher, slid to the compensatory section of the sixth round, and the Steelers felt they couldn’t risk not taking the chance of grabbing him.
After the draft, McCullers was described as “an obstruction”, as was as “a size prospect”, the latter term reflecting the reality that the team was likely not expecting to get much of a contribution out of the raw first-year player.
Due partly to injury, underperformance, and gaining the coaches’ trust, McCullers did indeed start finding his way onto the field as the season progressed, however. Inactive for the first six games like another rookie pick, he saw time in nine of the Steelers’ last 10 games of the season, plus the Wildcard game.
Though that playing time only amassed to a mere 82 snaps, it was a sample size sufficient enough both for McCullers to get a feel for the NFL, and for others to get a feel for McCullers.
For the most part, his appearances were brief cameos of four to seven snaps, but he also saw 10 or more snaps on four occasions, the majority of which were among his better outings.
That includes the postseason loss, which may have been his best showing of the year. It seems as though the Steelers may be content with their one-two punch at nose tackle that they already have in-house.
Given limited snaps from which to judge, it was obvious that McCullers knows how to play with power, at times at the expense of awareness. He ends up on the ground a bit too often, which is an area in which he will have to improve.
On the plus side, he has shown an ability to take to coaching, as he gets off the snap more quickly and gets lower more frequently. This past season, he was primarily an obstruction, but he does have the room to grow.